DPS processing thousands of untested rape kits

Backlog result of 2011 state law

SAN ANTONIO – The Texas Department of Public Safety continues to process approximately 20,000 rape kits that had been previously untested. The process began in 2013. Nearly 2,000 kits are from sexual assaults reported to the San Antonio Police Department.

Capt. Andrew Carian, in the SAPD Major Crimes Division, said some of the kits are more than a decade old and had not been submitted to the Bexar County Crime Lab for processing for a number of reasons.

"If the suspect was known to the victim or the suspect admitted his role in the criminal offense, those were some of the kits we did not submit," said Carian.

In 2011, Senate Bill 1636 provided $11 million in funding to test kits from as far back as 1994. The funding allowed DPS to outsource the processing to labs in Dallas, Ft. Worth and Virginia.

SAPD sent approximately 2,050 untested kits to DPS. The last batch, about 1,500, were sent earlier this year. Although the Bexar County Crime Lab regularly processes rape kits, Carian said the staff would have been overwhelmed by the volume of kits. 

Not all rape kits contain DNA evidence, but if genetic material was found, it was entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).

If a genetic match was found in the database, investigators were notified, rekindling rape cases that may have gone cold.

"We review the evidence that was sent to us by CODIS and then we pick up the investigation as if we got that CODIS hit at the time that case came in. We don't treat it differently than any other case," Carian said. "Those cases remain active all the time, so this law, and because of the funding that we received from the state, gives us the resources to solve those cases that we wouldn't be able to solve otherwise."

Due to the length of time that has passed in the investigations, detectives in San Antonio encounter a number of obstacles.

"The complainant may have moved, or the witnesses may have moved. The location of the suspect, known at the time when the offense occurred, can change. As with any other criminal investigation, time is not always our friend in these cases," Carian said.

At times, victims can also be uncooperative. Carmen Vasquez, a counselor at the San Antonio Rape Crisis Center, said some victims become disgruntled with the fact that their cases were never closed and unwilling to relive the trauma mentally in order to help investigators.

"They get very discouraged or tired or sometimes they don't want to participate with the criminal justice system anymore, because they didn't see justice coming for them on time," Vasquez said. "It's kind of detrimental for some people. It brings a lot of emotions, anger and confusion, back."

As someone who deals with victims regularly, Carian understands that anger. 

"They rightfully do express some frustration, and we do the best that we can in order to get that case solved and get it over to the district attorney's office," he said.

So far, the San Antonio rape kits have yielded 90 genetic hits. Investigators have submitted two cases to the district attorney's office for prosecution, with a third on the way.

"It's a great feeling to be able to go up to a victim and tell them we've got your case solved," Carian said. "The true heroes are those victims."

The Department of Public Safety hopes to have all the kits tested by late 2016.